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Banks Stand on Eden Park Funding Vindicated

Banks Stand on Eden Park Funding Vindicated

Syed Akbar Kamal

Mayor John Banks of Auckland City Council confirmed in an interview to ‘Darpan-The Mirror’ his council will commit $22 million for the upgrade of Eden Park precincts for 2011 Rugby World Cup after the government pitched in with a grant of $190 million.

This revelation followed Mr. Banks strong confidence in the redevelopment board spearheaded by John Waller and the government’s go-ahead of re-design raising the seating capacity to 60,000.

Mr. Banks said that with $10 million confirmed from the Rugby Union and atleast $12 million from the Eden Park Trust Board and his Council’s commitment of $22 million, there is a shortfall of around $28.5 million. He added that with the redevelopment board being optimistic of raising the money “so we go into Christmas relaxed.”

Elaborating on what aspects constituted upgrade around Eden Park, he said “road alignment, street widening, park n’ ride, provisioning parking, beautification, trees, gardens, bridges, access-about $22 million.”

Ferrying and coping with such large number of people descending on the city would be a challenge and through infrastructural development the council hopes to showcase the region as one of the best in the world.

Mr. Banks had strongly canvassed during his election campaign not to commit ratepayers money directly to the redevelopment of Eden Park. Contending that for an event of national significance as Rugby World Cup, the government should front up with cash and had promised not to honour the pledge of $50 million made by the previous mayor Dick Hubbard.

David Rankin

*****

Since returning to office of mayoralty he has advocated cuts on several fronts pruning down the committees from 14 to 5, curtailing culture of spending, rescinding the $9 million contract with New Zealand Housing Foundation and trimming the beauracracy.

While striking a note of caution, Mr. Banks said “the scenario I don’t want to see is a debt profile that sinks Eden Park forever as we had with the North Shore’s Albany Stadium.”

“So I am very keen that the Eden Park Trust Board doesn’t get itself into a level of debt that can’t be funded going forward into the medium-long term.”

When asked for his remarks on the perceived fears of contractors raising the price threshold and other costs over-runs, he acknowledged that “the ability and the potential for cost over-run still exists.”

“So the Eden Park redevelopment committee has to be very, very careful for cost over-runs and very careful for getting value for money” and exuded confidence in its chairman John Waller.

While noting that there’s no downside to this whole scenario he observed that he was pleased about the outcome.

David Rankin, CEO Auckland City Council expressed his optimism in Mr. Waller’s abilities. He ruled out any possibility of mischief cropping up in the pricing game during the course of upgrade and reposed confidence in the newly constituted redevelopment board to fulfill its obligations.

Asked for his comment on the option of Mt. Smart Stadium pushed forward by Auckland Regional Council, Mr. Banks dubbed the whole argument as ‘silly’.

“We have got a big investment in Eden Park; we should have never invested in Mt. Smart; it should have never been built; having said that the government has completely rejected that proposal and the government said no, so we move on”.

Mr. Rankin said “we respect the fact that the regional council has got Mt. Smart stadium and they might well have some arguments with that but at the end of the day the government has clearly decided that it’s going to be Eden Park and the government is fronting up with most of the money so that’s probably really settled now.”

The ARC has now come under increased pressure to commit funds for the upgrade of Eden Park and pitch in to cover the shortfall. The previous mayor Dick Hubbard had called for ARC to match Auckland City Council’s contribution ‘dollar for dollar’.

After assuming the office of mayoralty, John Banks followed his predecessor urging ARC to do its bit “although it is upto them,” he said.

ARC chairman Mike Lee, in an interview last month, had rejected those calls and while admitting that he has come under pressure, he had stated that ARC had no intention of contributing to cover the shortfall.

David Rankin joined the chorus and said “the views of the previous council and the present one elected this October have been clear that absolutely there should be some contribution from the regional council.”

“That’s really because the Rugby World Cup is not an Auckland City Council thing, it will benefit the entire region as well as the country; Eden Park is in our city but effectively it’s a regional asset, and the view of the last mayor and the new council is, it’s not really fair that Auckland city Council ratepayer should pick up all these costs so rather than trying to get each separate council in the region to contribute, the most practical solution was to get the regional council which collects this money from around the region including of course the Auckland City Council ratepayers and get a regional contribution that way”.

“And obviously the government also thinks that it’s appropriate that the regional council consider a contribution.”

*****

SYED AKBAR KAMAL is producer/director of Darpan-The Mirror current affairs programme on Stratos.

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